Birgit Jung-Schmitt

Klemens Gasser

In her recent show, which combined photography, video, and object art, Birgit Jung-Schmitt examined the themes of family, gender, and sexuality in works that centered on hair. The two-piece photographic work entitled Friseuse mit biographischem Angebot (Hairdresser with biographical proposal, 1994), for example, depicted the artist standing next to a table spread with hairdressing implements, as well as a board covered with photos documenting her hairstyles since her childhood. Jung-Schmitt filled in the hairstyles, wherever they appeared, with black retouching-fluid, rendering them at once alien and familiar. A photograph of her mother, which was treated in the same way, formed a companion piece. While both images undoubtedly had an absurd, almost parodic aspect, parallel changes in the hairstyles revealed a certain dependency in the relationship between mother and daughter. Biographical references also strengthened one’s sense of the work’s authenticity.

Hair also played a dominant role in the show’s two simultaneously running videos. Ein langer Zopf (A long braid, 1996) portrays a number of women sitting on a flight of steps and plaiting each other’s hair. The video, Schuppen von den Schultern klopfen (Brush the dandruff off the shoulders, 1996) begins with various young men entering the gallery space, taking off their coats and jackets, and strolling around the room. One of the participants begins to brush imaginary dandruff from the shoulders of the person in front of him, which sets off a kind of chain reaction until finally everyone in the room has formed a circle and become involved in the act. The activity reaches an obsessive pitch that eventually dies down, and the men slowly leave the room.

These two contrasting videos appeared to investigate, with a certain degree of irony, the relations between men and women when they are alone. While the women’s action could be seen as mutually supportive—a form of bonding—the men conduct themselves in a manner that has unpleasant connotations, implying an unnerving degree of competitiveness. In both videos the intensification of a relatively ordinary action into an apparent obsession is patently absurd, but at the same time there is a playful, somewhat naive spontaneity and a touching sense of familiarity to much of Jung-Schmitt’s work. When she allows her unconscious to flow into the work, there is also an element of the surreal. The piece Sonntagshose (Sunday pants, 1996) which consists of a pair of pants formed out of artificial resin covered with satin and black artificial hair, underscores the affinity between Jung-Schmitt’s strategies and those of certain Surrealists. Like Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered cup, the black pants furnished with black hair are rich in association, interrogating the nature of masculine and feminine physicality by positing hair as an object of desire, a symbol of strength, and an emblem of sexuality.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by Vivian Heller.